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Saturday, February 25, 2017

February 24, 1941: Okuda Spies


24 February 1941

24 February 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Hofbrauhaus Munich 24 February 1941
Hitler at the Hofbrauhaus, Munich, 24 February 1941. Visible aside from Hitler are: Martin Bormann, Heinrich Himmler, Rudolf Hess, Robert Ley, Julius Schaub.

Italian/Greek Campaign: The big conference between British and Greek leaders continues in Athens on 24 February 1941. The British promise to send 100,000 men, including three British divisions and an armored brigade.

Meanwhile, one of the most momentous decisions of the Greece campaign is being made a thousand miles away. At 17:00, the the War Cabinet meets along with Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies, in London after his long flight from Melbourne. The minutes show that Eden and Dill (in Athens) and General Wavell (who, as noted, remains in Cairo):
had recommended that we should send armed forces to Greece to help the Greeks meet a German advance through Bulgaria.
Menzies is a little more doubtful. He says at the War Council meeting that he would like to be "reassured" about things such as tactics and the composition of the expedition. He says that he would rather not commit Australian troops to a "forlorn hope," in which case "it had better not be undertaken." Another complicating factor is that "Wild Bill" Donovan has told President Roosevelt about the proposed operation, and cancelling it now "would have a bad effect in the United States." Menzies later comments in his diary that he is the only one to ask questions, and the whole thing "would have been finished in ten minutes, but for some queries raised by me regarding air support, problems of equipment, of shipping and of time." History shows that Menzies had quite valid concerns, but the room is full of Churchill supporters, and the outcome of the deliberation is certain.

After everyone speaks, the War Council votes. It unanimously approves "sending military assistance to Greece."

East African Campaign: The British are on the move, both along the Juba River and toward Mogadishu. Middle East Commander General Wavell, who is busy worrying about what troops to transfer to Greece, cables General Cunningham to press on to Harar and cut communications between Addis Ababa and Jibuti. The 12th African Division continues pressing north along the Juba, while the 11th Division continues toward Mogadishu against very light Italian resistance and are at Goluin, only about 50 miles from the important port.

West African troops capture Brava, a port 160 miles up the coast from Kismayu. Indian 7th Indian Brigade moves south of Cub Cub and takes Chelamet.

24 February 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Hawker Hind trainer crashed
This Hawker Hind trainer (L7226) of RAF No. 501 Squadron crashes on 24 February 1941 at Balls Farm, Langford (Malcolm Handscombe Collection).

European Air Operations: RAF Bomber Command raids Brest with 60 bombers. While the damage is fairly average for such a raid, it is notable as being the first operation mission by the Avro Manchester 2-engine bomber. Half a dozen Manchester bombers or RAF No. 207 Squadron participate, and one crashes upon returning to RAF Waddington from undercarriage failure. Tactically, the raid is a failure because German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, the primary target, is not hit despite claims by the bomber crews that they bracketed it in dry dock. In addition, their Vulture engines display a tendency to overheat. These are Mark I Manchesters with the original triple tail fin, no dorsal turret and an inability to carry the 2000lb bombs that they partially had been designed to deliver. The crash today is an omen, for the Manchester will wind up with the highest combat-loss-to-sorties ratio and the highest accident rate in the RAF.

The Luftwaffe bombs Cambridge after dark. There is little damage and few or no casualties.

Battle of the Atlantic: The destruction of Convoy OB 288 by a large Wolf Pack continues today (see 23 February 1941 for more details). U-95 (Kptlt. Gerd Schreib) joins the action. Sunk today (sources vary, and all are British except as indicated):
  • 8685 ton Dutch transport Grootekerk (U-123) 
  • 1908 ton Norwegian freighter Svein Jarl (U-95 or U-96)
  • 4542 ton Marslew (U-96)
  • 5468 ton Sirikishna (U-96)
  • 3385 ton Linaria (Italian submarine Bianchi)
  • 4260 ton Waynegate (U-73)
  • 3807 ton Cape Nelson (U-95)
  • 4427 ton Temple Moat (U-95)
  • 5360 ton HMS Manistee (U-107 and Bianchi, 140 deaths)
They join some of their fellow convoy members already on the bottom. The ordeal is not yet over for OB 288, though.

Convoy OB 289, which is following OB 288 fairly closely about 500 km northwest of Cape Wrath, Scotland, also comes under attack. U-boat U-97 (Kptlt. Udo Heilmann), on its first patrol out of Kiel, has an awesome start to its career. Heilmann makes repeated attacks and sinks three ships from the convoy and damages a fourth:
  • 6894 ton British freighter British Gunner (sunk)
  • 4973 ton British freighter  Johnathon Holt (sunk, 52 dead)
  • 4894 ton British freighter Mansepool (sunk, two dead)
  • 9718 ton Norwegian tanker G.C. Brøvig (damaged).
The tanker has its bow blown off, but the bulkheads hold and it makes port at Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides. It later is fully repaired. The convoy escorts are noticeably jittery due to all the recent U-boat attacks, and this manifests itself in an order by corvette HMS Petunia for the crew of the British Gunner to abandon ship despite the master's belief that the ship can be towed to port. A total of three ships of 16,761 tons are sunk.

U-48 (Kptlt. Herbert Schultze), one of the war's most successful submarines, adds to its totaly today. It finds a straggler to Convoy SLS 64 about 60 miles southwest of Fastnet. It is 4289 ton British freighter Nailsea Lass, which U-48 sends to the bottom. There are five deaths and two men become POWs. The other 29 manage to elude German capture and later are picked up by the British. SLS 64, incidentally, was the convoy that Admiral Hipper had attacked on the 12th, sinking seven ships, so this adds to that carnage.

The Luftwaffe strafes minesweeper HMS Blackpool off the northeast coast of Scotland. It suffers minimal damage.

Royal Navy 265 ton minesweeping trawler HMT Erimo hits a mine and is seriously damaged just off Swansea. It makes port.

Royal Navy destroyers HMS Impulsive and Intrepid lay minefield GT in the Channel.

Royal Navy destroyer HMS Inconstant and minesweeper HMS Cromarty are launched.

U-512 is laid down.


24 February 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Life Magazine Anzac Conquerors
"Anzac Conquerors," Life Magazine, 24 February 1941.

Battle of the Mediterranean: Operation Abstention begins. This is a British commando operation to seize the strategically useful island of Kastellorizo from the Italians. By seizing it, the Royal Navy essentially could seal off the southeast Mediterranean from Italian shipping. The British remain preoccupied by the Greek islands throughout the war, perhaps a holdover from Winston Churchill's experiences during World War I and the failed Gallipoli campaign. About 200 commands at Suda Bay, Crete board destroyers HMS Decoy and Hereward, accompanied by 24 Royal Marines on gunboat HMS Ladybird. Another force sails from Cyprus. They plan to land on Kastellorizo at dawn on the 25th and wrest it from the Italians.

Advanced Afrika Korps troops skirmish again with advance British troops west of El Agheila. While there have been several claims of "first" in terms of firing between the Germans and British in Libya, this incident has a better claim than some others: it involves tanks, armored cars and motorcycles. While the Germans ambush a British/Australian patrol, thereby unequivocally confirming their presence, the British in Cairo take little notice of this; instead, they remain bound and determined to take troops out of North Africa for the campaign in Greece. This, of course, is happening at precisely the wrong moment, with yet another convoy of German troops about to arrive in Tripoli.

Italian troopships Esperia, Conte Rosso, Marco Polo, and Victoria depart Naples. They are under heavy escort and bound for Tripoli. Several Royal Navy submarines are in the area, such as HMS Upright, which already has claimed an independent victim off the coast of Tunisia.

Three German Heinkel He 111 bombers continue the attacks on Tobruk Harbor which have forced most Royal Navy ships to flee eastward (and which sank monitor HMS Terror on the 23rd). Today, these bombers get another victim when they sink destroyer HMS Dainty. There are 16 deaths and 140 survivors.

The Luftwaffe (II,/KG 26) torpedoes and sinks 3089 ton Free French freighter Louis Charles Schiaffino in the Gulf of Philippeville off East Collo, Algeria (some sources place this on the 25th).

Royal Navy submarine HMS Ursula (Lt. Ward) had attacked and damaged 5788 ton Italian freighter Sabbia on the Naples/Tripoli route on the 21st. Today, Sabbia either makes port in Tripoli or is sunk by Royal Navy submarine HMS Regent, depending on the source.

The Free French siege of El Tag fortress in Kufra continues. The French are raining artillery and mortar shells on the Italians, who have no weapons with which to respond.

Convoys BN 17 and BS 17 depart from Suez.

24 February 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Hawker Hind trainer
Another photo of the Hawker Hind that crashed today, 24 February 1941 (All photos: Malcolm Handscombe Collection).

Spy Stuff: Japanese Vice Consul (acting Consul General) Ojiro Okuda in Hawaii has been spying for the Japanese on the US fleet docked in Pearl Harbor. Armed with a copy of "Jane's Fighting Ships," he provides detailed information on ship movements and locations. Today he sends another message to Tokyo, which reads in part:
The Enterprise came into port from the continent on the 21st, having transported 31 Army pursuit planes of the Curtiss-Hawk P36 classification. She immediately returned to the continent; (there is a rumor that she went on to Manila). I have observed the following ships in Pearl Harbor:
6 battleships, two of the New Mexico, two of the Pennsylvania, one of the Oklahoma, and one of the California type.
4 heavy cruisers, two of the New Orleans, and two of the Portland class.
7 light cruisers, three of the Honolulu and four of the Omaha type.
The aircraft carrier Yorktown.
Naturally, if the Americans knew that Okuda was spying, he would be expelled from the country instantly and a major diplomatic row would ensue. However, ignorance is bliss, and the US military is unaware that the most obvious spies of all are openly travelling around the island scouting out US Navy assets.

Anglo/Japanese Relations: The British, who have been monitoring secret Japanese communications via decrypts and thus have a very good idea of Japanese intentions, deliver a diplomatic reply to the Japanese Ambassador about his offer of mediation in the European conflict. It notes in passing that "All the preparations which are being made in oriental regions by Great Britain and the United States are of a purely defensive character." The British government rejects the offer of mediation because:
[I]n a cause of this kind, not in any way concerned with territory, trade or material gains, but affecting the whole future of humanity, there can be no question of compromise or parley.
This reply bears the unmistakable hand of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Many in Great Britain, including some highly placed personages, feel that negotiations with Germany should at least be tried. However, Churchill is absolutely adamant that no talks of any kind should occur.

24 February 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Brewster Buffalo
A Brewster Model 339 Buffalo Mk I (AS426) at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, 24 February 1941. © IWM (E(MOS) 218). This is from a Belgian contract taken over by the British Government. The RAF finds the American planes inadequate and passes them off to the Fleet Air Arm.

US Military: Lieutenant Colonel Omar Nelson Bradley, an assistant to US Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, is promoted to a wartime temporary rank of brigadier general. This is done to enable him to become the commandant at the US Army Infantry Training School at Fort Benning, Georgia.

British Military: Respective county divisional headquarters form for new units in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Dorchester.

Bulgarian Government: In a speech at the opening of the National Assembly (Naradno Subranie), Tsar (King) Boris III vows not to change the country's official posture of neutrality. The British mission in the country packs its bags and leaves Sofia, a sure sign that an end to diplomatic relations is in the offing.

Vichy France: Admiral Darlan, the new Vice Premier, names his cabinet. General Huntziger becomes Minister of War. Darlan himself takes the key spots of minister for foreign affairs, defence and the interior. As Marshal Petain's hand-picked successor, Darlan basically will run the government - as long as he does not personally offend Petain like Laval.

24 February 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Hong Kong map
A map to accompany Sir David Owen's report on Hong Kong development, dated 24 February 1941.

Hong Kong: Sir David J. Owen submits a report of this date entitled "Future Control and Development of the Port Of Hong Kong." It is considered a seminal work on the port's evolution. In the short term, Hong Kong's development will be drastically affected by events of which Sir Owen can have no inkling at the time.

Antarctica: US icebreaker Bear meets Interior Department vessel North Star off Adelaide Island. Their mission is to evacuate East Base from Antarctica. They are unable to penetrate the ice and retreat to Dallman Bay. North Star then travels to Punta Arenas, Chile for supplies while Bear searches for a way through the pack ice. It is troubling to those on the ships that they are having difficulty reaching the base despite the fact that it is high summer in the Antarctic.

German Homefront: Adolf Hitler delivers a speech in Munich at the Hofbrauhaus to commemorate the date in 1920 when he joined the NSDAP (he does not mention the Party already was in existence, and he had joined as a member of military intelligence to infiltrate suspected terrorists). He reports that "just two hours ago" he received a report that "a single convoy of 125,000 tons" had been "destroyed yesterday." The convoy in question, OB-288, in fact has suffered tremendous losses, but nowhere near the amount he claims. His other numbers of Allied shipping losses also are gross exaggerations. He does makes vague references to an increased U-boat offensive in the offing, but without any specifics.

Continuing a theme extended by Mussolini in a speech in Rome on the 23rd, Hitler assumes a typical defensive tone at some points.
My opponents may believe that they can terrify me with the threat of time, but I have learned to wait, and I have never been idle while waiting... It is for this reason that such threats do not frighten us.
He also adopts an offended attitude about the Allies' rejections of his previous half-hearted peace overtures:
I have made proposal after proposal to Britain; likewise to France. These proposals were always ridiculed-rejected with scorn. However, when I saw that the other side intended to fight, I naturally did that which as a National Socialist of the early days, I did once before: I forged a powerful weapon of defense.
Thus, despite his repeated decisions to invade other countries, Hitler portrays himself (and presumably Germany, though the speech is all about him and his decisions) as the victim of bullies.

Another oddity in hindsight is when he catalogs a list of reasons offered by his enemies why his rule would collapse quickly. Among them is the following:
Then they said: "Winter, General Winter is coming, and he will force Germany to her knees." But, unfortunately, the German people are "winter-proof." German history has passed through I do not know how many tens of thousands of winters. We will get through this one, too.
This, of course, is not a claim he would be able to make at the next anniversary.

Dutch Homefront: A group of anti-fascist organizations meets in the Noordemarkt. They decide to start a nationwide strike. The Communist Party of the Netherlands, previously outlawed, is an enthusiastic participant/organizer and plans to print up placards and flyers announcing the strike, which is to begin on the 25th.

American Homefront: Another Gallup poll is released, this one regarding attitudes toward Japan. There are two major questions.

Question 1: "Do you think the United States should try to keep Japan from seizing the Dutch East Indies and Singapore?"

Yes: 56%
No; 24%
No Opinion: 20%

Question 2: "Do you think the United States should risk war with Japan, if necessary, in order to keep Japan from taking the Dutch East Indies and Singapore?"

Yes: 39%
No. 46%
No Opinion: 15%.

The results are interesting in that they appear to support President Roosevelt's policy of economic, but not military, warfare against Japan.

24 February 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com HMS Dainty
HMS Dainty, sunk today by Luftwaffe bombers off Tobruk. 

February 1941


February 1, 1941: US Military Reorganization
February 2, 1941: Wehrmacht Supermen
February 3, 1941: World Will Hold Its Breath
February 4, 1941: USO Forms
February 5, 1941: Hitler Thanks Irish Woman
February 6, 1941: Operation Sunflower
February 7, 1941: Fox Killed in the Open
February 8, 1941: Lend Lease Passes House
February 9, 1941: Give Us The Tools
February 10, 1941: Operation Colossus
February 11, 1941: Afrika Korps
February 12, 1941: Rommel in Africa
February 13, 1941: Operation Composition
February 14, 1941: Nomura in Washington
February 15, 1941: Churchill's Warning
February 16, 1941: Operation Adolphus
February 17, 1941: Invade Ireland?
February 18, 1941: Panzerwaffe Upgrade
February 19, 1941: Three Nights Blitz
February 20, 1941: Prien's Farewell
February 21, 1941: Swansea Blitz Ends
February 22, 1941: Amsterdam Pogrom
February 23, 1941: OB-288 Convoy Destruction
February 24, 1941: Okuda Spies
February 25, 1941: Mogadishu Taken
February 26, 1941: OB-290 Convoy Destruction
February 27, 1941: Operation Abstention
February 28, 1941: Ariets Warns Stalin

2017

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